To give your job application the best possible chance of success you need to know how to write a relevant and concise cover letter. Take a look at our examples for inspiration
What is a cover letter?
A cover letter is a document sent alongside your CV when applying for jobs. It acts as a personal introduction and helps to sell your application. A cover letter is necessary as it gives you the chance to explain to an employer why you're the best candidate for the job. You do this by highlighting relevant skills and experience; therefore you should always write your cover letter with the position you're applying for in mind.
Cover letters should complement your CV but not duplicate it. The general consensus among recruiters when it comes to the length of these documents is the shorter the better. Typically three to five short paragraphs, cover letters should not exceed one A4 page. If sending electronically, put the text in the body of the email rather than as an attachment, to avoid it being detected by spam filters.
Applications should always include a cover letter unless the job advert instructs you differently.
How to write a cover letter
Keep your cover letter brief, while making sure it emphasises your suitability for the job. It can be broken down into the following sections:
- First paragraph - The opening statement should set out why you're writing the letter. Begin by stating the position you're applying for, where you saw it advertised and when you are available to start.
- Second paragraph - Cover why you’re suitable for the job, what attracted you to this type of work, why you're interested in working for the company and what you can offer the organisation.
- Third paragraph - Highlight relevant experience and demonstrate how your skills match the specific requirements of the job description. Summarise any additional strengths and explain how these could benefit the company.
- Last paragraph - Use the closing paragraph to round up your letter. Reiterate your interest in the role and indicate your desire for a personal interview. Now is the time to mention any unavailable dates. Finish by thanking the employer and say how you are looking forward to receiving a response.
How to address a cover letter
Always try and address your cover letter directly to the person who will be reading it. Bear in mind that you're more likely to receive a reply if you send it to the right person.
Advertised positions usually include a contact name, but if not, it is worth taking the time to find out who the letter should be addressed to. You can do this by searching the company’s website for details of the hiring manager or alternatively you could call the organisation to ask who you should address your letter to. Don't be afraid to do this, many employers will appreciate you taking the time and initiative to do so.
If you're struggling to find a named contact you can use a general salutation such as:
- Dear Sir/Madam
- Dear Hiring manager
- Dear Human resources director.
However, general greetings should only be used once you have exhausted methods of finding a named contact. How you sign off your cover letter depends on how you addressed it. If you include a named contact sign off 'yours sincerely'. If you use a general one finish with 'yours faithfully'.
Example cover letters
6 tips for the perfect cover letter
With employers often receiving lots of applications for each vacancy, you need to ensure that your cover letter makes a lasting impression for the right reasons. Here are some tips to increase your chances of success:
- Be concise - Ideally a cover letter should take up half a page of A4 or one full page if necessary. Read through the document and cut out any unnecessary words and sentences. Don't fill up available space by repeating what's already covered in your CV.
- Tailor to the organisation - You should rewrite your cover letter every time you apply for a position in order to target the individual company. Sending out a generic letter for all applications rarely yields positive results and recruiters can spot your lack of time and effort from a mile away.
- Proofread - Never rely on a computer spellcheck program to pick up every mistake. Print off your cover letter and double-check for spelling and grammar errors before passing it to family member or friend to look over. Also make sure that your own contact details and the company name are correct.
- Format - Presentation is important so you'll need to format your cover letter properly. Make sure the document is as uncluttered as possible, use the same font and size as you use in your CV and if you're sending it through the post or handing it in use good quality plain white paper to print it on.
- Identify your USPs - They're your unique selling points. Be positive about what you have to offer and clearly outline how your skills and experience meet those requested in the job description. Demonstrate why you’re the perfect candidate.
- Include examples - Back up the claims in your cover letter with real evidence or examples that show how and when you've used your skills and experience.
Find out more
If you're a student or recent graduate you can make an appointment with your university's careers and employability service to access further help when writing your cover letter. You'll be able to talk with specially-trained advisers, get advice on what to include and have a professional eye look over your application before sending.
Written by Jemma Smith, Editor
Prospects · April 2017
Also in this section…
You may also like…
Take advantage of our How to Write a Cover Letter tips, where you’ll find everything you need to write a dynamic cover letter.
Second, your resume. More than likely, you will need to convert your resume to a CV.
Most countries outside the U.S. favor the CV over the resume. Do your homework on the region of the world where you want to work and tailor your CV to fit.
Read our article, Culturally Competent Resumes for the Global Job Market and find other key resources and samples in our LiveCareer Resume Resources.
6. Build and Use Your Network of Contacts — Locally and Internationally
While networking is important for job-hunting in your home country, it is absolutely crucial in the global job-search. Take advantage of all networking sources, especially college alumni and professional organizations. People in your network can not only help you by alerting you to job leads, but can also help you with developing additional contacts, understanding the economics and culture of the country where they reside, and other key background information that may be helpful in your job-search.
To learn more and find key networking resources, go to our The Art of Networking resources.
7. Prepare for the Global Job Interview
The majority of your initial job (screening) interviews will probably be conducted in a non-personal medium e.g. email, telephone, or video conferencing. You need to prepare not only for dealing with these specific types of interviewing methods, but also be confident in your language skills. While you need to be prepared for the challenges you face with these interviews — showing enthusiasm and confidence — stay focused on the point that if these companies were not willing to do unconventional interviews, you wouldn’t have much of a chance for a global job.
As with any job interview, the key for your success is preparation and practice. Whatever the medium of the interview, you still need to articulate how your unique mix of accomplishments, skills, and education make you an ideal candidate for the position… and you still need to show your knowledge of the company as well as ask questions.
Resources that can help you prepare:
8. Follow-Up All Job Leads
It’s essential — for your job-search success — to make the effort to follow-up ALL job leads… don’t let any potential jobs slip through your hands. Make phone calls and send e-mails to all your prospective employers and inquire about the status of the job openings. You have to be a bit more assertive in your follow-up, but be careful of sounding too aggressive. Again, know the culture of the country. And be sure to send thank-you notes after all interviews and other contacts.
Finally, remember that it’s better to err on the side of seeming too aggressive in your follow-up then to not follow-up at all.
9. Consider Obtaining a Graduate Degree
Consider attending graduate school — either a top-ranked school in your home country or a graduate school in the country/region where you want to work. Whether it’s an MBA with a specialty in international business or a graduate degree in international affairs, be sure to do your homework on the best programs to fit your needs and goals.
Read our article, Considering Graduate School? Answer These Five Questions Before You Decide.
10. Contemplate Going/Moving Abroad
In job-hunting, nothing beats meeting with prospective employers face-to-face. If you have the resources, consider traveling or moving to the country or region where you want to work. Once there, meet with potential employers and consider volunteering, interning, or other work alternatives while you continue to search for that ideal position.
Remember: moving to a foreign country takes a lot more planning than simply moving across town. You’ll want to have enough money to live without a paycheck for three to six months, and you’ll want to have a number of network contacts and job leads you are ready to follow-up with as soon as you arrive.
And even after you move, you’ll want to keep a lifeline back to your home country in the event your job-searching fails and you need to return home.
Questions about some of the terminology used in this article? Get more information (definitions and links) on key college, career, and job-search terms by going to our Job-Seeker’s Glossary of Job-Hunting Terms.